Get the lowdown on the making of Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool...
The development process is rarely straightforward. Projects can come together in a few days and fall apart just as quickly, actors leave, directors get offered other projects and funding that was rock solid in the morning can mysteriously disappear by the afternoon. That’s normal. But the development of heart-swelling new drama Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool was anything but.
Talk of a film first began in the mid-1980s when Peter Turner first published his memoir about his relationship with the eccentric Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame, with Barbara Broccoli, key producer of the James Bond franchise, coming onboard to help out.
For Broccoli, the only woman for the job was American Beauty star Annette Bening, but Bening was only in her late 30’s and far too young to play Grahame. So they waited, waited and waited until 2016, when Bening joined forces with Jamie Bell to play Grahame and Turner.
Paul McGuigan is in the director's chair, working from a script from Control writer Matt Greenhalgh, with Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber and Leanne Best all in the supporting cast.
As the film arrives on DVD shelves (it's out on Monday, you can pre-order on the right-hand side of the page), we spoke to Broccoli and the real-life Peter Turner about getting this true labour of love onto the big screen…
You’ve been trying to get this film together for a long, long time, can you talk us through the process of it finally coming off?
Barbara Broccoli: “I’ve known Peter for 40 years. I knew him with Gloria and I knew him afterwards, so when I read his book and was very moved by it. Many people went after the film rights, but it never quite worked out. So I went back to Peter and said I’d like to do it. This was 22 years ago! So then we started thinking about it.”
How did Annette come into the picture?
Barbara: “I knew Annette anyway and I spoke to her about it. She knew all about Gloria Grahame because when she was making The Grifters with Stephen Frears he’d told her to study Gloria. So her affair with Gloria began then. At that point, she was too young to play Gloria, but then we met up again, about seven years ago, at the BAFTAs, and she said to me ‘I think I’m getting ready’.”
“So I went for it, I got Matt Greenhalgh to write the screenplay, I’ve wanted to work with Paul McGuigan for a long time and we sent him the script. Then we met him and he told us his vision for the movie and we knew he was the right person. Then we had to find a Peter, but when we brought Jamie in to meet with Annette, we knew we had the winning formula. Then it came together quite quickly, so it’s been 22 years and then a mad rush!”
Peter, has it been worth the wait to see it up on the big screen?
Peter Turner: “Absolutely! It was the right time, everything just fell into place, I’m so pleased it didn’t get made 20 years ago because we wouldn’t have these wonderful performances or the director we got. It feels so right for this year, this is the real deal.”
Was Annette the only person you ever considered for the role?
Barbara: “No. Which is a tricky situation for any film producer! She’s been very committed to this, which is pretty extraordinary, most actors have so much going on, it’s rare for them to stay committed to one project for such a long time. But she did and she gives the most extraordinary performance.”
What was it about Jamie that convinced you he was the right man for the job?
Barbara: “His truthfulness. He’s a very, very committed actor and he prepared so well. He captured Peter’s spirit really well and he was very inspired by his love and devotion for Gloria. He makes you forget the age difference with his performance.”
What’s it like having someone play you on screen?
Peter: “When it’s Jamie Bell it’s wonderful. It was quite difficult at first, I didn’t want to know too much about the process, because I knew I’d end up giving too much of my opinion to them and putting too much pressure on them. But meeting Jamie was different, I knew he was going to be perfect. He asked me if I wanted to say anything to him and I said ‘No, not really’. I just wanted him to get into it and build the relationship with Annette. They’ve done total justice to the story.”
The period detail is incredible…
Peter: “I know! They built Malibu Beach in Pinewood Studios! It was amazing!”
Barbara: “People have been telling me about how much of the sets just remind me of their grandparents! I think it’s that candlewick bedspread!”
Peter: “The first time I saw the set, me and Barbara went down together, we saw the set for the house in Liverpool and I was so taken aback. Everything was in the right place, the toaster, the tea towels, the way the washing machine and dryer were uneven, it was absolutely accurate. I was so moved by it, it was like being back there.”
Barbara, you’ve spent most of your career producing James Bond movies, which have pretty lavish budgets, how did you find scaling down for the one?
Barbara: “I’ve worked on budgets of more than 100 million dollars, I’ve worked on budgets of five million and everywhere in between. It’s all exactly the same, there’s never enough money! You’re always trying to make cuts and scrape by. We all want it to be perfect and deliver as much authenticity as we can, it just felt like more of the same, it all comes down to the team you’ve put together.”
“We have, amazingly, made it into the Guinness Book Of World Records for this film for having the largest back projection screen used in a movie. That was a big part of Paul’s vision, he wanted the audience to feel like they were in a movie with Gloria, so it worked perfectly. There’s a beautiful cinema language to this film.”
Finally, we have to ask about the other man in your life, James Bond, how’s that all looking?
Barbara: “That’s all going to start ticking over pretty soon. We’re looking at next year. He’ll be back! Don’t worry.”